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Concealed in the coastline of the Italian Riviera are five villages that seem to cling precariously to the clifftops in a collage of rainbow hues. Together they are known as Cinque Terre (Five Lands); their medieval architecture and age-old system of agriculture are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The villages are linked by a series of hiking trails that snake along cliffs and through terraced fields of olive trees, vines and citrus orchards. It makes for extremely rewarding walking, one of the best ways to experience this corner of Italy, which produces very fine dry and sweet white wines.

Despite the crowds, the Cinque Terre is one of the most enticing parts of Italy for me. I love to escape the streams of visitors by hiking from village to village among the vines, or exploring the caruggi (alleyways) with a guide.
Italy specialist Claire

Monterosso al Mare

The westernmost village of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare is also the most accessible, with a wide sandy beach. The village itself winds its way up a hillside in a splash of brightly painted houses that border narrow, meandering streets. However, its castle ruins and handful of watchtowers paint a darker picture, harking back to the days of marauding pirates.

A tunnel links the old town with the new, where you'll find a tree-lined promenade and a monumental statue of Neptune. Monterosso also has several impressive churches, but its biggest highlight is the sweeping panoramas along the entire coast that can be seen from San Cristoforo Hill, home to a 17th-century convent.

Vernazza

Perhaps the most photogenic of the five villages, Vernazza grew up around the coast's only natural mooring point. A round tower on the waterfront is the only remnant of a medieval castle which once protected this precious natural landform and the wealth it brought with it.

Wandering the steep tangle of streets lined with little cafes, bars and restaurants, you'll uncover a host of well-preserved medieval buildings. There are no cars here and it's a great place to stroll, with each turn revealing another perspective over the sea and coastline.

Corniglia

Set on a clifftop towering over the sea, Corniglia is flanked by terraced fields and vineyards, and only linked to the waterfront by a long and precipitous set of steps. The town was founded by the Romans, but today it’s the smallest and most serene of the quintet.

As with the other villages, its slender, winding streets are lined with a jumble of medieval houses, but since Corniglia receives fewer visitors, it’s a place where the modern world has made little imprint.

The 14th-century Chiesa di San Pietro is the village’s most significant sight, but far more celebrated is the view from the belvedere (viewing terrace), the only place on the coast where you can see all five villages of the Cinque Terre at once.

Manarola

Manarola, Cinque TerreA small village set on the top of a rocky outcrop, Manarola is allegedly the oldest of the five, its tall houses arranged in layers over the cliffside and running down to the sea. Fishing boats line the lower main street around the tiny port and terraced vineyards blanket the hillside above the town.

Viticulture here dates back to Roman times and Manarola is well known for the high quality of its sweet dessert wine Sciacchetrà. Sample a glass in the bar at Punta Bonfiglio, a short hike up the hill overlooking the village.

Riomaggiore

Hugging either side of a steep ravine which leads down to the waterfront, Riomaggiore is the largest and most easterly village of the Cinque Terre. Fishing boats dot the tiny, shallow bay flanked by a patchwork of pastel houses linked by steep streets and stairways.

The town is topped by a 13th-century castle, which offers magnificent views down over the zigzagging streets and laneways. To the east is Torre Guardiola, a formal naval tower on a rocky promontory which now hosts a botanical garden. For an even better vantage point, simply choose a rock by the sea to watch the sun set and throw its warm light over the rooftops.

Hiking

For centuries, walking was the only way to travel between the villages of the Cinque Terre and today it remains one of the best ways to appreciate the villages’ vertiginous positions on the cliff edges and the terraced fields and steeply plunging hillsides that surround them.

The views are expansive as you tread along the network of trails passing citrus and olive groves, pine forests and flowering meadows, but the trails are often narrow, steep and strenuous. Some follow the coast along paths overhanging sheer cliffs, others are wooded routes but all involve long sections of arduous, uneven steps, so you'll need to be reasonably fit and mobile to tackle them.

Speak to someone
who's been there
Audley Travel Specialist Ruth

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Cinque Terre by calling one of our Italy specialists on 01993 838 960

Suggested Cinque Terre itinerary

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Cinque Terre, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Cinque Terre

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Cinque Terre

    Ideas for experiencing Cinque Terre

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Cinque Terre, and which use the best local guides.